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Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoGOP Tiff: Rep. Doug Hart Rips Betsy DeVos
State Rep. Doug Hart assailed state Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos for calling on the state superintendent of education to resign. "Frankly, several of us Republicans like Tom, believe in him. He's a centrist and a pragmatist, a good administrator. He should be commended for his leadership, not trashed."
by Steven Harmon, The Grand Rapids Press, February 13, 2004
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State Rep. Doug Hart, who has made it a part of his legislative repertoire to stand up to Republican leaders, assailed state Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos for calling on the state superintendent of education to resign.

In an article in Sunday's Detroit News, DeVos derided Tom Watkins for his "highly compensated tenure," which she said has had a "total lack of results." She blamed Watkins for falling test scores each year since taking charge.

Hart said DeVos' criticisms were "cheap political shots" that have a "polarizing effect" at a time when the state needs to be finding common ground in improving education.

"I don't quite understand why the state party is so resolute in their attacks on Tom Watkins," Hart said. "It smacks of partisanship."

Hart noted DeVos was similarly partisan in the debate over pausing the income tax cut, at a time when the state needed a bipartisan solution, he said.

"I think we've seen some unfair sniping. Earlier, we had Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema leading the charge for a six-month pause and at the same time the state party calling those of us who supported it 'tax hikers.'"

Now, Hart said, the party is "attacking" Watkins.

"Frankly, several of us Republicans like Tom, believe in him. He's a centrist and a pragmatist, a good administrator. He should be commended for his leadership, not trashed."

GOP spokesman Jeff Stormo said the party would have preferred Hart to have approached DeVos privately.

"It would be nice if he has a disagreement with Betsy if he would call and share that disagreement with her," Stormo said. "He's exercising his right of free speech. But he is not in step with the mainstream of the party."

In the article, DeVos said Watkins stalled the release of the accreditation report for Michigan's public schools, "preventing Michigan's families from knowing which schools are falling short and which kids are most at risk."

She lauded him for his "tireless" promotion of teachers and the necessity for strong public education. But, she said, the only result she's interested in is student achievement. With falling MEAP scores and increasing drop-out rates in some metro area schools that "hover at frightening levels," the job "is not getting done.

"Why is replacing Watkins important to Michigan's children? Simple. He is blocking the doorway to school progress and accountability," DeVos wrote.

She said Watkins' response to his critics is to condemn "those who have the temerity to point out our lack of progress."

Hart said DeVos' credentials on public education are marred by her association with the school voucher movement. Critics said vouchers would harm public schools by draining state resources.

"When the state party chair speaks about education, the image conjured is vouchers," he said, referring to her leadership role with Proposal 1 in 2000, the constitutional amendment to require the state to provide vouchers for private schooling.

"It's important for Republicans to promote a positive sense and vision on education, and I don't know how attacking Tom Watkins does that," he said.

Hart said there is a "disconnect" between the state party chief and GOP lawmakers.

"It was true with the tax cut pause, and it's true among many of us with Tom Watkins," Hart said. "I think she ought to listen to Republican elected officials a bit more because we're not on a warpath with Tom Watkins. In fact, we like him and think he's doing a good job."

Hart has had clashes with Republican leaders before. After having his chairmanship of the House Family and Children Services Committee yanked from him, he confronted House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, for "inappropriately" using his powers to "force" through legislation on casinos in December, 2002.

In a guest column in The Press, Hart said Johnson "broke his commitment" to lawmakers, "and did so boldly" in allowing a vote on casinos after promising that a spring of 2001 vote, which defeated new casinos, was the final word.

He also publicly criticized DeVos in December for her opposition to the six-month pause on the income tax cut.

"Believe me, I'm not on a warpath against the state party, and my intent isn't to attack Betsy DeVos," Hart said.

"Others agree with me. It can be somewhat daunting (to take on party leaders). But I'm a legislator, I represent 95,000 people. I'm somebody who's working on education issues. I'm an individual people ought to hear from."

    

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